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Updated: March 2nd, 2012 5:11pm
Saints hits on Brett Favre in 2009 title game likely had a price tag

Saints hits on Brett Favre in 2009 title game likely had a price tag

by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com
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Defensive end Bobby McCray of the New Orleans Saints was fined $20,000 following the 2009 NFC title game against the Minnesota Vikings for two illegal hits on quarterback Brett Favre.

It turns out, McCray also might have made some money for those hits.

The NFL announced Friday that between 22 and 27 defensive players from the Saints, as well as defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, had a "bounty" program that was in large part funded by players during the 2009, 2010 and 2011 seasons.

Peter King of Sports Illustrated reported that before the Vikings met New Orleans for the conference championship, Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma offered any defensive teammate $10,000 in cash to knock Favre out of the game.

"I'm not pissed. It's football," Favre told King on Friday night. "I don't think anything less of those guys."

A Vikings spokesman said Friday the team would have no comment on the NFL's findings.

All of Saints' tactics, of course, were in violation of NFL rules.

The NFL's findings came after a lengthy investiation by the league's security department that found there was a "pay for performance" program that provided payments to players who caused injury to opponents that forced them to be removed from a game.

The pool kept by the Saints reached as much as $50,000 -- reaching its height in 2009, the season New Orleans won the Super Bowl -- and gave $1,500 for "knockouts" and $1,000 for "cart-offs." The money given to players doubled and tripled during the postseason.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said the investigation began in early 2010 when allegations were first made about the Saints targeting players, including Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner and Favre.

So why did it take so long?

Goodell, according to the Associated Press, said the NFL "recently received significant and credible new information and the investigation was re-opened during the latter part of the 2011 season." The league's findings were then corroborated by multiple, independent sources.

All of this will come as little surprise to Vikings fans, who watched Favre take a beating in the team's 31-28 overtime loss in the 2009 conference title game at the Superdome.

The hit that most remember was a high-low take out that McCray and nose tackle Remi Ayodele put on Favre in the third quarter that left the veteran on the turf with an injured left ankle. Favre's pass on the play was picked off by Vilma. New Orleans took over at its own 31 with the score 21-21 but did not score on the ensuing series.

No flag was thrown but Mike Pereira, then the NFL's vice president of officiating, admitted later that referee Pete Morelli's crew should have called a 15-yard penalty. Favre was injured but was able to continue playing.

A hobbled Favre threw an interception near the end of the fourth quarter with the scored tied and the ball at the Saints 38-yard line.

McCray is no longer with the Saints and Ayodele is now a member of the Vikings.

Favre's agent, Bus Cook, told the AP he was unaware of the investigation until Friday. Cook said the Saints should have been penalized for several hard, late hits in that game and that he believed the contact was not coincidental.

"It was pretty obvious that the intent was to take Brett out of the game, and it happened the week before with Kurt Warner, too," Cook said. "I don't know anything about whether it was by design or whatever, but I think a lot of people shared that same viewpoint that there were some hits that didn't get called."

Cook did say that Favre never suggested to him he was targeted by the Saints.

Favre commented on the hits shortly before the Vikings opened the 2010 season in New Orleans on a Thursday night.

"Had it been us doing that to [Saints quarterback Drew Brees], we probably wouldn't feel that way," Favre said of the complaints that came from the Minnesota side. "They would be getting those questions. It's football. If you're able get the opposing quarterback out. ... Are there cheap hits that happen occasionally? In every game. The ones on the quarterback are more obvious. People see them."

This came after then-Vikings coach Brad Childress had expressed his displeasure with the hits that left Favre with large bruises on his ankle and thigh.

"What I hate to see are late hits or attempts to hurt anybody," Childress said before the game in September 2010. "I don't think there's a place for that in the game."

Childress made those comments in a conference call with New Orleans reporters and was then asked if he thought if there was an attempt to injured Favre in the NFC title game.

"Yes, I would have to say that, yes," he said.

The NFL said the "bounty" program was administered by Williams, but general manager Mickey Loomis and coach Sean Payton had knowledge of what was going on, according to the league.

Saints owner Tom Benson had any blame taken off of him by the NFL but that doesn't mean Benson won't be writing a big check to the league office.

Punishments are yet to come and it's possible there will be suspensions, fines or even loss of draft picks. Williams is now the defensive coordinator for new Rams coach Jeff Fisher in St. Louis so it remains to be seen if he will be disciplined.

In a statement, Godell said: "The payments here are particularly troubling because they involved not just payments for `performance,' but also for injuring opposing players. The bounty rule promotes two key elements of NFL football: player safety and competitive integrity. ...

"It is our responsibility to protect player safety and the integrity of our game, and this type of conduct will not be tolerated. We have made significant progress in changing the culture with respect to player safety and we are not going to relent. We have more work to do and we will do it."

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
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